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HTTPS and follow/nofollow links are causing a stir in the world of SEO

8 September, 2014

https blogThis month has been an extremely interesting one for the world of SEO. First came the announcement from Google that they will begin ranking websites higher if they use HTTPS. Secondly, it seems the debate on follow/nofollow links has reached a peak with many calling for the buying and selling of these links to stop. But what does this all mean and will it really make a difference to how the internet is regulated and websites are ranked?

The announcement from Google this month with regards to HTTPS caused something of a stir amongst many webmasters. Google stated that those websites who use HTTPS would be ranked higher than those who do not. There are many benefits of using HTTPS, the biggest advantage being that it makes the internet a much more secure place as it ensures that any data that is transferred, is secure. This of course will make the web a much safer place for all, especially those who are taking payments or holding personal information. However, what about websites that don’t hold personal information and don’t take payment? Does their website really need to be secure? Is it fair that Google are scare mongering people into HTTPS for fear that they will be pushed down in Google?

So what exactly is HTTPS? Well, HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol and is usually used by websites that need to ensure their site is safe, for example online banking or online shopping websites. However, in order to be able to use HTTPS, websites must also have an SSL Certificate. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and when it is installed on a website, a padlock appears in the address bar, thus ensuring customers it is safe. However, many were quick to take to social media sites to express their opinions on the Google announcement with regards to the purchasing of SSL certificates, including me!

Purchasing an SSL certificate is not expensive, and setting up HTTPS is not difficult, however, is it fair that webmasters have been pressured into doing this? After all, who wouldn’t if you were presented with the possibility that your website wouldn’t be ranked as highly in Google?

Whilst many are still sceptical, Google have been quick to state that they have carried out testing on sites using HTTPS and have said that it makes a small difference to their ranking factors. But with over 200 ranking factors in place with different weighting and Google stating that if they want, they can increase the weighting that HTTPS holds, is this really something websites are willing to risk? Should we be pleased that Google are working to make the internet a safer place for everyone or is HTTPS just another way for Google to ensure everyone follows the same rules?

My advice would be get an SSL certificate if you are:

  • A Transactional website taking credit card details
  • If you take sensitive details, for example a date of birth
  • If you have a login area requiring a user name and password

If you are none of these you don’t need to run out and get an SSL certificate, but certainly getting one is a way to future proof your website and give a more trustworthy signal to users browsing your site.

blog 3So what about follow/nofollow? Well, for many years there has been an on-going debate with regards to follow/nofollow links being bought and sold in order to boost PageRanks within Google. From an SEO point of view this was always something that was frowned upon, as the high Google rankings that were being achieved were not original. However, many people still continued to use these to boost their PageRank. Now it seems that now many people are calling for websites to use follow/nofollow links for what they were originally designed for. But what impact will this have on the internet, and is this something we really need to worry about?

blog 4Google has spent many years encouraging websites to encode their links with either follow or nofollow. The purpose for this being to tell the search engine whether the link is worth following or not. So for example, if you wrote a blog and linked to a website that was trustworthy then you would code the link ‘follow’ in order to tell Google that the link was worth following. This is something that works both ways, so again for example, if the a high authority site like the BBC linked back to your website, then it would be great if that was a follow link, however even an unfollow would have significance which I will go into shortly. The impact of having several trusted sources linking to your page with ‘follow’ links can have a huge benefit on your PageRank in Google, ultimately boosting your websites’ SEO.

So as you can see follow links are extremely beneficial for websites from an SEO point of view, however, do not forget about nofollow links, these can be just as beneficial. There are several situations where a nofollow link should be used, for example:

  • If you can’t or don’t want to verify the content of websites that you have linked to, this is most commonly used for untrusted user comments to ultimately deter spammers from posting on your website.
  • On pages such as ‘Terms and Conditions’ or ‘Sign In’, as these do not need to be followed by Google.
  • On links that you suspect have been bought or paid for.

google penaltyAs the last example states, many people began buying or selling follow and nofollow links. Google quickly realised that this was happening and began to clampdown on these link schemes. But a lot of the damage had already been done and Google found it increasingly difficult to decipher between paid and natural links. Unfortunately, there are many websites that have been set up in order for bought or sold links to be used. If any of these link to your website and have not been correctly coded with nofollow, then your website could be penalised by Google.

The power of a nofollow link

Don’t discount the nofollow link, this is similar to a brand mention, i.e. when you brand is mentioned without a link, Google now counts this towards your ranking factor irrelevant of whether there is a link or not, it is my opinion that nofollow links are still extremely valuable, if someone wants to link to you whether it’s a follow link or not, I am confident it has a positive score for your rank.

What is the issue then?

I believe ultimately that the main issue here is to prevent the use of paid links and decipher which have been bought and which are original. The best way to do this is to ensure that if you can’t vouch for the content on the page that you are posting to, then use the nofollow link. Similarly, ensure that if you are not sure on the validity of a website that is linking to you, then again ask them to use the nofollow. This will protect your PageRank and will show Google that you understand how to use follow/nofollow links correctly and efficiently. Also, ensure that you are constantly creating and supporting great original content. This is one of the best ways to boost your SEO and ensure that those who link to you are doing it for the right reasons.

So yes, I do believe that follow/nofollow links are something that we need to worry about, however by applying common sense and using the links for the purpose that they were designed for, then everyone operating on the web will feel the benefits. But what do you think? Do you take the time to check your links? Will you be persuaded to change to HTTPS after reading this blog? As always, I would love to hear what you think, so don’t be afraid to make your comments heard. Don’t forget to connect with me on LinkedIn to receive more advice like this!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of svilen001 at Freeimages.com

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